A New Age Anarchism: Overcoming Liberalism’s Hidden Antipathy to Individual Freedom

“The deepest emotion I have is my malice against the well-constituted as compared with the ill-constituted…Dwarfs, morons, idiots, imbeciles, hunchbacks, degenerates, perverts, paranoiacs, neurasthenics, every type of individual upon whom the world looked down, I loved…admired…and imitated.” – John Cowper Powys

“The mystery of mysteries is Personality, a living person…” – John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance

“I was unlike others of my generation in one thing. I am very religious, and deprived…of the simple-minded religion of my childhood, I had made a new religion, almost an infallible church of poetic tradition…Then gradually the attitude towards religion of almost everybody… got upon my nerves, for I broke out after some lecture or other with all the arrogance of raging youth. They attacked religion, I said, or some such words, and yet there must be a change of heart, and only religion could make it.” – W.B. Yeats quoted in Poetry & Mysticism, by Colin Wilson

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…” – M.L. King, Letter from Birmingham Jail

The task of staying out of neoliberal reality, out of mainstream bogus news and supposed fascination with stupid people glamorized by TV is problematic, especially in a provincial town like Utica. Here, corporate chain store sameness is dominant, and efforts to make something “indigenous” happen are indeed effort-ful, always dependent upon the downward trickle of capitalism, grants from someone’s largesse. One of my strategies is to read a lot …..For many weeks I have been making my way through the longest and overall strangest work of fiction I have ever read: The Glastonbury Romance by J.C. Powys. I picked it up following a reference to the writer made by a CounterPunch reader. (Many thanks!) Of all writers I’ve read, the relatively unknown Powys (1872-1963), a philosophical anarchist, puts forth convincingly a love for the human individual that is anarchist (also Dostoyevskian) in scope, not only presenting people sympathetically as workers oppressed under capitalism, but also as the real singular expressions of cosmic or spiritual purpose (my reading, of course!) – and he does so entertainingly! Glastonbury, a novel of 1120 pages set in early 20th century England, contains 50 regular characters and a host of smaller ones, some conventionally likeable or even admirable, though never unmixed, and many neither admirable nor likeable. Included in this panorama, astonishingly, is a cancer sufferer who appears in several scenes. In these scenes, the reader must acknowledge her “close up,” hear her moans, learn of her strategies for addressing her constant and irremediable pain, listen to the various characters expressing either sympathy or frustration in relation to her public presence, and uncomfortably wonder which we would be were the situation “real.”

This feature of his writing, focusing on the least admirable, most unacceptable and “ill-constituted” human beings tells me Powys understood the task set for him as artist by his own creative soul. That task was to defy his inner ‘class society’ of better thans and lesser thans and to include in his consciousness, as he does in his novel, that which is least acceptable to and despised by his autocratic ego, the soul itself as “other.”

At this moment, in our western civilization, as capitalism in its dying throes intensifies the suffering for all but the few at the top, something seems to be asked of our understanding of love that’s never before been asked, and you will not hear it asked today on any mainstream media, Hollywood movie, or by your friends on Facebook. Not only is “love” now understood to include the full diversity that exists on the earth, in terms of different races and cultures and species, in terms of minority groups in our own society, but it is also to include the diversity of individuals. This involves a little understood requirement that, as an individual, each one must take up the responsibility handed to her/him in the form of individual freedom, and must seek the full expression of his/her essential difference; otherwise there is no difference and no tolerance for difference, let alone love. This challenge to love across difference is formulated in the New Testament as “Love thine enemy.” For that which feels truly different – in oneself – threatens the ego structure that cannot tolerate other centers, other realities, other gods. It cannot tolerate difference in one’s own children, thus resulting in that issue common to psychotherapists’ offices, the pain of not having been seen by one’s parents. Modern parents fail to see their child in his/her otherness because the ego’s need for self-preservation demands there should be “no other gods before me.”

Such intolerance in the soul, routine by now in a civilization that has perfected individual freedom, makes class stratification necessary. It makes race difference, gender difference and differences in sexual orientation necessarily determinative in classifying one’s relative humanity. Soul-level intolerance makes it necessary to decide whom one can include in the human community that will be reasonably friendly to the ego and its defenses, and who must be left outside the palisade to feed the beasts. Somebody has to be sacrificed. Liberal ideals, liberal policies cannot abrogate intolerance if it cannot get at the intolerance enthroned in the soul and invisible to the positively self-regarding ego. And they cannot approach this rigidity in the soul when religiophobia is allowed to reign unchallenged for the religiophobe does not see that his/her adamant antipathy to religion, as well as superstitious lip service to being a “good Christian,” is a cover-up for fear of the difference – the enemy – within the deeps of ‘thine own soul.’

The “cosmic” or “evolutionary”demand that our individuality be expressed, testified to in the early 20th century by C.G. Jung and by the archetypal movement he engendered, as well as by prophetic writers and artists in many eras, though implicit in the anarchist vision as well as the development of consciousness in the West, has been eclipsed by capitalism’s preferred ethos of competitive individualism. The stories inculcated under the one reality of capitalist civilization promote sameness under the guise of commodified “difference.” Even though we “know” other stories can be told, have been told, that are more in keeping with nature’s balance and with human nature – that contain wisdom, beauty, resonance and meaning – to we who’ve been fully conditioned by our society’s harsh individualistic ethos, they seem not much more than whimsy. Only “crazies” like Powys and D.H. Lawrence, like Jesus and Thoreau, take such alternative stories seriously. This marginalization of the positive call to presence is further intensified by constant access to media and screens which prevent access to solitude. Thus the possibility that individuals will take up the task of finding (through art and artful living) their essential, unique, and thoroughly unacceptable expression is ever more unlikely.

The call to develop our singular characters brings out an aspect of anarchism that has been under-emphasized up until now. The central faith of anarchism, that individuals can cooperate and govern themselves, without need of top-down authority, rests upon an assumption that society consists of individuals. But as we are horrified to see, this is less and less the case; as the “first world” world advances, the human individual is increasingly erased; be all you can be an empty slogan to sell us a brand and join with the rest in forgetting all about the tedious, painful, lifelong quest of becoming human, a task not only arduous but completely without guarantee of success. Even artists, the “crazies” socially positioned to be our shamans, shirk the task in order to obtain the grant or the teaching position.

Paradoxically, our “getting” this demand that we become our individual characters is the revolutionary element needed to realize the ‘brotherhood of man’ religion teaches. It makes it possible for the modern man or woman, brainwashed by materialism and hampered by a shallow grasp of freedom’s meaning, to return to the old-fashioned concepts learned by human communities over time, learned in place, in committed relationships with community, family, plants and animals, hills, rocks and fields. The commitment to one’s own becoming, a task of imagination, means the best move is not to move, to stay where you are, in the fully impossible relationships in which one finds oneself, and use all that frustratingly obdurate given material to learn about and express more completely the difference each one is.

When one accepts these new terms for love, that is, that first must come a truly anarchist love for one’s own unacceptable difference (unity with oneself), then that difference must be expressed creatively and without ceasing or the unity is lost; the connectedness realized via the spiritual creative process is not guaranteed, but only brought into being by the practitioners of art as they practice their art. This duty ought to be a pleasurable one, a pleasure denied to those who must instead of creative work, work only to keep the beast of capitalism going.

Antithetical to love as such selfish pursuit of personal bliss may seem, it is the only way to an authentic “liberal” vision; taken to its true radical depth liberalism is anarchism, not staunch defense of group identities. Anarchy is anathema throughout modern history not because of the threat of bomb throwers but because espoused liberal ideals exist nervously and inauthentically. The root of liberal truth is anarchist truth, soul deep; at once a complete threat to the capitalist project, to the ego’s supremacy, and to the secret desire in every person to remain hidden and to never seriously rock the boat. Anarchism, truer to nature’s riotous variety, to its interconnectedness and interdependence, carries with it the duty, as well as the nature-given “right” to be free. Shorn of its true anarchist depth, liberalism can never be more than a puny corrective to capitalism’s project of limitless growth that defies the truth of interdependence, destroys relatedness, and fattens the fat at the expense of everyone else.

As the shyster says, “I’m not gonna lie to you;” this life of individuating is a blues life. The Blues, we know, are made from off the cross of suffering. This religious language is intense, but passion is an intensity. What we (white people) do not see is we have used our “freedom” (gained on the backs of others not free) to escape the social limitations on our freedom, as if through escaping these “chains” – traditional espousals to communities, places, spouses, children, parents, etc., we could escape death, or, as it happened, life. We should not have accepted the terms that made it acceptable to forsake the very conditions that make human life possible, which is life circumscribed in community, in places over time, bound by the bonds of affection. Having escaped life, our context is banality. Life is not banal, we make it so, we make it a death culture. Legitimate suffering makes a life culture, there is no other way. Religion at its true mythopoetic level, is means for inhabiting the human story of transformation, in sync with the transformations of nature, providing the “eyes” for seeing this kind of humanizing truth; without religion’s eyes our hearts are blind to it.

Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: kodomenico@verizon.net.